The Statue of Liberty

What is one of the influences in Western culture and law?…

I once read an old African parable that depicted a man bent over as he walked. It was said that heaven above him stopped him standing up straight. It prevented him being fully man. While the concept of heaven and God was in man’s mind the man wasn’t truly free.

This story is about reality. Who determines realty? What if I don’t like someone else’s depiction of reality? Can’t I determine my own reality? If not, then aren’t I captive to someone else’s reality and not truly free? This African parable depicts the age-old debate about God. It is claimed that it’s not fair that God should hold all the cards on who defines reality and our identity.

So man goes on a quest for freedom. Freedom is wrongly understood. It is thought that freedom means we can choose, define and create our own reality. But this brings us into bondage. If everyone creates their own reality then all our “realities” will be against each other. We become slaves to our selfish wills. The world we all live in then self-destructs.

This is the false freedom the serpent spoke of to Adam and Eve. God had kept them stunted. If they listened to the serpent, they would become Gods. This means they would determine for themselves the reality they wanted. However Adam and Eve were created beings. Creation is given: it already existed. Reality isn’t determined by the creature, but by the creator.

What then is freedom? It is the power to obey the right voice. It is the power to live within God’s reality, to obey what is good and right within our creation and to share the love of our creator with all others in his creation. Freedom is something to be enjoyed, because in God’s freedom we flourish together in resourceful community rather than self-destruct.

The question of freedom came up also in the European Renaissance and Enlightenment some centuries ago. To many, including Reformers, it meant freedom from the then papal corruption. The Reformation didn’t take this freedom to its full extent. They still persecuted some others they didn’t agree with, like Anabaptists for example. The Reformation and the modern Christian movement remained in alliance with Western individualism.

But for many others in the Enlightenment freedom meant being free to determine our own reality. They claimed man was totally free. Man was God and he could determine and create his own truth and world. Man didn’t need the true God, but was sufficient in himself. However man didn’t make the world or the universe and so he can’t hold things together himself either.  We can deny creation and claim it came from just natural events, but this denies all purpose for creation, allowing each man and women to invent their own purpose for life, once again tearing humanity apart.

The Statue of Liberty was given to the USA by France. It represents freedom. To many in France after the French Revolution, freedom meant man was liberated from the shackles of faith, to determine meaning himself. This concept of freedom was also held by many who founded the USA. To them, phrases in the constitution about the individual’s liberty and pursuit of happiness meant freedom and happiness in the sense of the Enlightenment, not in the sense that Jesus taught. Many who drafted the constitution were Deists. They believed in God only as an initial cause in creation long ago, but who now has nothing to do with his creation. They claimed there is no saviour, no redemption, and man is left entirely to himself to shape life and his world as he determines it.

Here we have a liberty that resembles the enticement of the serpent in the Garden rather than the liberty Christ lived. Many of the elite who govern the USA are still pursing liberty in this way today. It’s the liberty of individualism, of the pursuit of individual happiness. This governs the law of the land and many of the principles of modern democracy. It is said we all have our right to determine our own world. But this brings us more and more into bondage to ourselves and breaks up our societies, which are based on care for the other.

So why is all this being said? Is it said so we will fight against those who present a wrong reality? No. That would mean we are fighting with the same weapons as others, just fighting for our own world view and reality, just another contender in the global market place of ideas. It seems everyone in the world today is fighting in this way, and thus the trouble we see.

So what do we do? We present God’s reality God’s way. God presented the truth by coming in his Son and serving, becoming a slave and dying. He denied individualism, each individual determining his own truth, by obeying the Father and giving up his life to serve. He showed what freedom is by living out the freedom of love, of giving up his rights to show mercy to others. This is freedom: not to be in bondage to self-serving. This is how God is free and why only he is free to rule. And this is the way God has called the church to present reality to our world.

The African parable, the serpent in the Garden and the European/American Enlightenment were all lying about freedom. This lie brings destruction. But the only way to contend with the lie is by being truly free ourselves in Christ: to live opposite to individualism and self assertion, to take up our cross and serve, as God did for us in Christ. When Adam and Eve fell God still loved them and he set out to rescue them from the serpent by giving his own life for them in Christ. This is what we do for those who don’t agree. They don’t become our enemies. They become those we love.